This month I am preaching each Sunday at the Rosedale Congregational United Church of Christ. The title of my sermon yesterday was “Good News of the Kingdom,” from Mark 1:15.
Updated terminology. In the first part of the sermon I had to take time to talk about terminology. The UCC does not usually refer to God with gender-specific words: as a rule, they do not call God “Father” or use masculine nouns in referring to God. I don’t have any trouble with that, for I adopted that same general approach years ago.
In addition, the UCC doesn’t like to talk about the Kingdom of God—for that implies there is a king, and we all know that kings are male. So the preferred term is “realm of God.” A section in “The New Century Hymnal,” the UCC hymn book published in 1995, is titled “Realm of God.”
While I see the point in that new wording and appreciate the consistency of it, I have had some trouble making that shift in terminology. Maybe “kingdom” doesn’t always mean there is a male monarch—it certainly doesn’t for the United Kingdom where Queen Elizabeth has been the monarch for more than 60 years.
Updated hymn. For the service yesterday, I chose the closing hymn from the “Peace and Justice” section. The title is “Lead On Eternal Sovereign,” and the words are attributed to Ernest Shurtleff. But the hymn that he wrote to be sung at the graduation service of Andover Seminary in 1888 began, “Lead on, O King eternal.”
Even though Shurtleff’s name appears at the bottom of the page, there are few words that are the same as those he wrote. Not only is gender specific language not used, military images have also been changed—for which I am grateful. The result is a fine hymn, but it is not really the same as what the author wrote.
Here are the words of the third verse to the updated hymn:
Lead on eternal Sovereign, till sin’s fierce war shall ceaseand all your saints together will sing a hymn of peace;Then all in your dominion will live with hearts set free,to love and serve each other for all eternity.
Updated Lord’s Prayer. There are three versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the UCC hymnal. I was surprised to see that all three begin, “Our Father,” and all three use the word “kingdom.” So to be consistent, I thought there ought to be an alternative version without gender-specific language.
My Google search failed to find anything suitable, so I decided to write a paraphrased version myself. Here is what I came up with:
Creator God, Redeemer and Sustainer of all that is,
May your Reality be honored by us and by all creation.
May your will be done on earth as it is in your Eternal Realm.
Give us the food we need for our sustenance today.
Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from times of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the glory and power of the Eternal Realm is yours forever.
So, what do you think? Is it necessary to use gender-neutral language for God and for “his kingdom” as well as for the Lord’s Prayer? And if that is desirable for the latter, is the version I came up with satisfactory, or are there places that need to be changed and improved?